Tuesday 28 June 2016

London Council Leader Calls for Independence for London

Peter John (Lab), the leader of Southwark Borough Council in London, has called for London to become an independent city state in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (EU). Writing in the Local Government Chronicle (subscription) in a piece entitled ‘London should be an independent city state’ he says:

‘Whilst it is widely accepted that Scotland’s backing for Remain strengthened its independence campaign, it is assumed that London - with a population of eight million, far exceeding Scotland’s five million - will shrug its shoulders and bear the highest cost of an EU departure that its population did not want and did not vote for.

This is an untenable position. EU membership and access to the single market is vitally important for London. Sadiq Khan has underlined this view in his reaction to the Leave vote. Until three months ago even Boris Johnson recognised the importance of the single market to London’s prosperity.

… The vote to leave the EU has thrown the political pack of cards into the air. Nothing will be the same. So the opportunity now exists for London and Londoners to make the case for a properly autonomous future, with the values of openness, tolerance and EU membership at the heart of our ambitions.

We need to be sufficiently mature to recognise the divisions and contrasts which this referendum has exposed and not be deterred or frightened by them. It has demonstrated that London is different to much of the UK. We should embrace those differences and seek a new governmental settlement for our city which places an autonomous city state at the centre of Europe and the world, and not be forced to turn our backs on the people and the markets who have driven our capital’s prosperity over the past 40 years.’

Jules Pipe the Chair of London Councils and Mayor of the London Borough of Hackney, doesn’t go as far as asking for full independence when he says:

“The result of the EU Referendum makes it vital that London’s government – the Mayor and the boroughs – work closely together to sustain the growth and success of our city in this new environment.  It furthers the need for us to press for a devolutionary settlement that allows London to make the sort of contribution that our country needs and to ensure that the focus is not just upon the transfer of powers between Brussels and Whitehall.  It is critical that London and local government more generally has a seat at the table in the discussions and negotiations that will follow.”

Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, said:

“The mayor is right that we must remain part of the single market… Where the mayor needs more powers to act, he should be given them.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan also failed to grasp the nettle of full independence for the Capital when speaking at the Times CEO summit, he said:

“As much as I might like the idea of a London city state, I’m not seriously talking about independence today. I am not planning to install border points on the M25!

“But on behalf of all Londoners, I am demanding more autonomy for the capital - right now. More autonomy in order to protect London’s economy from the uncertainty ahead, to protect the businesses from around the world who trade here and to protect our jobs, wealth and prosperity.”

The underlining of the word today, is mine, but Khan has perhaps left the door open to the possibility of independence for London. The problem with saying that London wants to remain in the single European market, is that this will probably not be an option without free movement of people, and it looks as though the British exit settlement will not include this. Of course, everything is unclear at the moment, but I think Khan will wait and see what the British government wants exactly and what the EU states will allow.

The mention of walls around the M25 is a red herring I think. There will be no need for London to build a wall around itself, as we can have an open border with England, although the English maybe will want to build one themselves, but it is not necessary from London's point of view.

I think Khan would be wise to leave the option of an independent city state open, in case no deal can be reached which is acceptable to London. We live in very uncertain times, let us not close our options down. 

Sunday 26 June 2016

Labour Party Coup – Blair is responsible for Brexit, not Corbyn

Almost as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the Labour Party leader less than twelve months ago, Blairite MPs have been plotting to overthrow him. It has only been a matter of timing when the daggers will be drawn, not whether they would be. Well, it looks like the time has arrived, ten shadow cabinet members have resigned at time of writing, and there may be a few more to come. Corbyn has so far refused to stand down.

Why do these MPs think that now is their opportunity to oust the leader though? There have been several possible occasions over the last year when it may have been possible to strike, but all have come and gone. The Oldham West by-election was the first, but Labour held onto the seat, increasing their majority. Then we had the elections last month, in Scotland, Wales, London, and local council elections. Despite predictions that Labour would do very badly, the elections turned out to be not that bad for Labour, except in Scotland. The idea that a Blairite would have done better in Scotland, is ridiculous though. Also, with the EU referendum coming hot on the heels of the May elections, it was decided that the putsch would have to delayed.

There has been constant grumbling from anti-Corbyn MPs about how Corbyn should have campaigned more for the remain side, and with the result going to the leave side, this has now become the optimum time, or so these MPs think, to actually mount the coup.

Corbyn did make several supportive speeches about remaining in the EU, although the media didn’t really report them and I think he did the best that he could. We know Corbyn has a history of Euroscepticism, but others have changed their mind over the years on the issue, and in the end it wasn’t Corbyn’s fault that the referendum was lost.

With leave winning the referendum, and the Prime Minister resigning, there is now every chance that we will have a general election in the autumn, or more likely May next year. While many of Corbyn’s opponents in Labour thought they would have another two or three years in which to pick their fight, now they see it as urgent business. Many Labour MPs will fear for their seats at a general election, whether this is rational or not, seeing the loss of core Labour voters to the leave camp as evidence of rejection of the party under its new leader.

I am dubious this is the case, but if this perception is held by Labour MPs then they may well think they need to ditch Corbyn. Labour started to lose its traditional voters under Tony Blair’s leadership, with his Tory-lite agenda, and Labour is blamed for allowing immigration from eastern European nations once they joined the EU. We should also remember that Blair wanted to join the Euro, and would have, if Gordon Brown hadn’t stopped him doing so.

It was under new Labour that its traditional voters lost faith in the party, and I’m one of them, though for slightly different reasons. Many Labour MPs came through the trade union movement, and so were still in touch with working class people, but Blair put a stop to that, and only allowed Oxbridge graduates and the like to become MPs. This hollowed out the party and alienated it from its traditional base. A Blairite leader will not bring them back.

The problem for the plotters now, is the same as it always been, the membership is overwhelmingly supportive of Corbyn, and he would win again in a leadership contest. They might try to bar him from standing, by refusing to nominate him, but this would lead to large scale defections of the new members particularly, but probably more long standing ones too. This option would probably be very good news for the Green Party, as I would expect a surge in members, but they may think this is a price worth paying. It is very risky though.

A safer bet is to try and use Brexit to convince members that it is all Corbyn’s fault and being of such importance, if they swallow this line, then they may conclude Corbyn is not up to the job. The softening up has started. Zoe Williams, writing in The Guardian, until now a supporter of Corbyn, is saying that he should stand down, having ‘made his point.’

Will they pull this off? I think it is unlikely, but maybe.  

Friday 24 June 2016

Brexit Backlash as Scotland and London look to Independence

As the shock waves sink in of Britain voting to leave the European Union (EU) and reverberate around the country, the EU and the rest of the world, it looks as though not all Britons are prepared to take this decision lying down. Signs are beginning to emerge that the people of Scotland and London (and possibly Northern Ireland) who all voted convincingly to remain in the EU, are seriously thinking of leaving the UK and remaining within the EU as independent states.

The dire economic consequences of Brexit, which were highly predictable, has begun, with a sharp fall in the value of the pound against other currencies and the stock market is in free-fall, was simply disbelieved by the English and Welsh voters. Expert is now a dirty word it seems, and the ramifications of this could well poison other policy areas, for example, in matters relating to the science around climate change.

It looks to me as though this kind of spasm from the electorate, is a general reaction of discontent with all kind of things, but because the causes are complex, it is much simpler to focus on immigration as the cause of all our ills. Problems such as falling wage levels are happening in all Western countries, including those not in the EU, like the US, but in Donald Trump like fashion, the easy answer is to build a wall to keep foreigners out, rather than address the real issues.

Immigration has been the lightening rod in all of this, but if you look closely at the results of which areas voted heavily to leave the EU, they have hardly any immigrants from the EU, whereas areas that voted to remain, London and Manchester for example, do have significant numbers of EU migrants.

Pandora’s box has now been opened with the decision to exit the EU, and not all of the effects are probably apparent at this time, unknown, unknowns, as it were. But we are certainly in for a bumpy ride over the next few years, economically and politically.

What we do know, is that Scotland will almost certainly demand another referendum on independence from the UK. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has said as much, and she indicated that London will have an interest in this too.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, in carefully chosen words writing in the London Evening Standard says:

‘London is united on this issue, and I will be pushing the Government to ensure remaining in the single market is the cornerstone of the negotiations with the EU over the months ahead.’

Khan wants to be involved together with Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, in the talks around the terms of the Brexit deal with the EU, but to stay in the single market, as he suggests, would likely entail accepting free movement of people, which is hardly going satisfy the wishes of most Leave voters.

Maybe Khan is just proceeding cautiously here, because he surely knows this is unachievable given the strength of feeling surrounding immigration in most of England. There is another option though, complete independence as a city state for London, which is perfectly feasible.

London’s population is equivalent to those of Scotland and Wales combined. Its economy is almost double the size of these nations together. Population wise a city state of London would be the fifth most populated in the EU and rank seventh in the GDP league table, similar to Sweden. There is no problem with London being an independent state, it is only a matter of political and popular will.

On this score, within a few hours of the referendum result being announced this morning, a petition addressed to the London Mayor appeared on Change.Org entitled ‘Declare London independent from the UK and apply to join the EU.’ At the time of writing, the petition has had over 86,000 signatures. Momentum is building behind the idea of independence for London.

I have signed the petition, and ask all of the Londoners who voted to remain in the EU, to do likewise. Independence for London will make Londoners more wealthy, and maybe make us feel better about ourselves too.

Personally, I just don’t feel English anymore. I want a tolerant, vibrant, and diverse society, and the only realistic option open to me now, is to have this as a Londoner.  

Wednesday 22 June 2016

EU Referendum and Arguments about Sovereignty and Democracy

Well, after an avalanche of words over the past few months of this seemingly never ending debate, on whether the UK should remain or leave the European Union (EU), the talking will end tomorrow as the actual vote takes place.

I’ve written before about the desperately poor standard of debate from both sides of the argument, with ridiculous claims made about the effects of staying or leaving, but I think the most interesting issue that the campaign has thrown up, is the one about democracy. It is often framed as national sovereignty against a perceived out of touch, remote and foreign bureaucratic entity which is the EU.

One of the main failings of the EU, in my opinion, is in terms of communicating with the European people. Hardly anyone of my acquaintance knows very much, if anything at tall about how the EU works. Most people can’t name a single MEP, and are fuzzy about the democratic processes of the EU at best. This lack of understanding allows for all kinds of myths to take hold, and the EU must take the lion’s share of the blame for this, although it hardly constitutes a reason to leave the organisation.

Essentially, the democratic structure of the EU has three elements, the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, which together covers all aspects of the way the union takes decisions.

The European Parliament, which is elected by the people of the various nation states of the EU, holds a non-binding vote on new EU treaties, dealing with trade for example, but it does not have the power to veto them by itself. However, when the European Parliament threatened to vote down the Nice Treaty, the national Parliaments of Italy and Belgium said they would veto the treaty on behalf of the EU Parliament. Changes were made to the treaty. The EU Parliament can also have other indirect influence. It can amend and reject legislation, but to make a proposal for legislation, it needs the EU Commission to draft a bill before anything can become law.

The European Commission is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. Each elected nation state government appoints one commissioner. The European Council can confer powers to Commission, but on its own, the Commission doesn’t have any real powers.

Power resides with the European Council, which consists of the heads of state of all nations within the EU, although in practice the national representatives are usually the Foreign ministers. Of course all of these people are elected in their own countries, so it can’t really be argued that the EU is undemocratic. Each nation only gets a say in one of the 28 Council representatives with no say over who the rest are, but would we in the UK want the other nations selecting our representative? I think not.

So, that is how it all fits together, and I don’t think that you can credibly say that is undemocratic, but it doesn’t stop the Brexit brigade repeating the opinion, usually in the expression of ‘we can’t vote them out’. This is true of the other nation’s representatives, but as I say, that is perfectly reasonable.

I do wonder what the people of other EU countries, and indeed the world generally, make of this new found pre-occupation of the British (or some of the British anyway) with democratic governance?

This is a country, let us not forget, that has a monarchy, and an unelected upper chamber (the House of Lords) and probably the most undemocratic electoral system in the world, where the present government was elected by only 24% of the voters. A nation with a history of supressing national democracy in other lands, during the Empire days, and one that has overthrown foreign democratically elected governments, in Iran for example, when they refuse to do our bidding.

Hypocrisy perhaps? Or just good old fashioned using arguments that suit your agenda at that time? By Friday we will know whether the British people have been fooled by this line of argument. I do hope not.  

Sunday 19 June 2016

An Ecosocialist Approach to Immigration

As campaigning resumes today after a brief interval brought about by the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP and Remain campaigner, the European Union referendum is back on centre stage. With only four days to go until voting begins on Thursday, the opinion polls put the result too close to call, and barring a late swing to the status quo, which is still possible, we have entered what Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager use to call ‘squeaky bum time.’

I confess to being surprised that at this stage the remain side haven’t got a comfortable lead in the polls, but I also didn’t expect the anti-immigrant argument to gain so much popularity amongst my fellow UK citizens.

I got to thinking, if immigration is such an important issue for people, how will this be dealt with by a future ecosocialist ‘government’, if one should come to power in the UK?

I can’t find any ecosocialist writers that have addressed the subject at all. Maybe the imagining of an ecosocialist world is just so abstract at this time, that to think of every minute policy area is a waste of energy until the basic fundamentals of ecosocialism is accepted? But on the other hand, since ecosocialists stress the importance of ‘taking the people with us’ this is an area in which we need to spell out what an ecosocialist approach will be.

The first thing to say, is that ecosocialism will be international, if it is to be anything, and so to try and imagine ecosocialism in a single country is difficult to say the least. In states that have so far made some moves towards ecosocialism, they are mainly in the developing world, like Venezuela or Bolivia, and immigration may not be so much of an issue, or at least in the same way.

People that leave their home countries and emigrate usually come from poorer countries, as they try to make a better life for themselves in richer countries. Of course, people also emigrate from one rich nation to another as well, but this isn’t the type of immigration that seems to cause much anxiety. It is immigration from poor, often brown skinned people into the rich Western nations which is the cause of the discontent.

In a world run along ecosocialist principles, there would be a more equal distribution of wealth, which would in turn alleviate the need for economic migration, certainly in big numbers. I would imagine that there still would be some migration, and I think that would be a good thing, but the impetus that poverty plays in this for migrants, would cease to exist.

The fact that capital as we know it today, will have completely disappeared in an ecosocialist society, will reduce the need for labour to chase it around the globe. In short, I don’t think migration will be much of an issue.         

Long distance trade would also be much reduced to what we see today, with more localised production of what is needed, but there would be some international trade, where this is beneficial and ecologically sustainable. Long distance foreign travel will also be less than we see today, but I do not envisage it disappearing altogether. Travel and learning from other cultures is an important part of people’s education, which promotes understanding and cooperation.

This is all after ecosocialism has firmly established itself, in at least most of the world, if not all. But we are a long way from this situation, and in the revolutionary period prior to this, I don’t think ecosocialists can just point the way to this future with great confidence that the people will have blind faith in things turning out this way.

Especially when we think of the likely effects of climate change on immigration to the rich northern countries, from the poorer more vulnerable global south. There is already strong evidence to show that climate change was one of the driving forces of the conflict in Syria today, although this gets scant attention from the main stream media. We can expect more immigration pressures once climate change advances, and this will certainly be from the poorer countries to the richer ones.

The danger in this case will be that fascist politics including wall building around richer nations, will be accepted more easily, and the fascists realise this themselves. The BNP, before their recent implosion was putting these arguments about, they know it will be an opening for them.

So, what would be a sensible approach to immigration, in one country, in the transition stage to ecosocialism?

The first thing to do, would be to impose capital controls, stop wealth leaching out of the country, and to focus on localised production, and perhaps withdrawal from international trade treaties, or renegotiation where possible and desirable. Resources then can be directed to where they are required, to serve the people.

When we are clear about the needs of all in the country are being met sufficiently, we can look at where population increases would be desirable, but we need to do this in an ecocentric way. Britain is a relatively small island, so everyone in the world can’t live here. I think that it is important too, that in areas that do want to increase immigration, the decision should be made as locally as possible, with due regard to local services.

In parallel to this we should encourage the development of ecocentric practices in poorer nations, with financial help, but not in the rather corrupt way that foreign aid is distributed now. We would encourage self-sufficiency for these countries, not be encouraging the growing of cash crops for the north.

I take it that we will be compassionate with refugees and those seeking asylum, but the rest will need to be managed in the short term.

I think that would be as much as we could achieve in the early stages of ecosocialist transition, and yes, it would have to have border controls I think, which is not entirely desirable. But the alternative of fascism will be by far worse.   

Friday 17 June 2016

US Green Party Moves Towards Declaring itself Eco-socialist

Written by Jonathan Nack and first published at Indybay

In a major development, the Green Party took a key step towards declaring itself Eco-socialist. The party’s National Committee voted Sunday night to approve a proposed amendment to the party’s platform entitled “Ecological Economics.” The proposed platform position declares that the Green Party is anti-capitalist and in favor of a decentralized vision socialism.

The proposal to amend the 2016 platform will go to the Green Party National Convention for a final vote. The convention will be held in Houston, Texas, August 4-7, a week after the Democratic Party’s National Convention. Almost 78 percent of the National Committee voted in favor of sending the proposal to the convention (76 voted “yes,” 22 voted “no,” with 9 voting to “abstain,” on Proposal 835).

The proposal would have the Greens go on the record, for the first time, that they want to go beyond reforms intended to make capitalism greener, in favor of a democratic and decentralized conception of green socialism. The proposal, “addresses the economic inequalities, social inequalities, and productivism of both capitalism and state socialism and emphasizes grassroots democracy in the workplace. This workplace grassroots democracy has been largely absent from the Green platform, and many believe it is the way forward for a truly ecological economy and a new system...The Green Party seeks to build an alternative economic system based on ecology and decentralization of power, an alternative that rejects both the capitalist system that maintains private ownership over almost all production as well as the state-socialist system that assumes control over industries without democratic, local decision making. We believe the old models of capitalism (private ownership of production) and state socialism (state ownership of production) are not ecologically sound, socially just, or democratic and that both contain built-in structures that advance injustices...Production is best for people and planet when democratically owned and operated by those who do the work and those most affected by production decisions.” http://gp.org/cgi-bin/vote/propdetail?pid=835

Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, the National Co-Chair of Green Party, told IndyBay, “The themes of the left that we saw develop in the early parts of the 20th century are timely again because of the economic, social and environmental upheaval wrought by late-stage capitalism. Even though these themes have been co-opted by the political center, it's clear that the working class in this country is ready for revolution. As the true left discusses reform vs. revolution, the Green Party is now uniquely positioned to finally be the electoral tactic of grassroots movements…we are now ready to finally become the party of the 99 percent and be worthy of the attention of an anti-oppressive and leftist worker cadre.”

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Brexit Will Likely Lead to the Break-Up of the UK

As realisation dawns that a week on Friday, the UK could wake up and find it has voted to leave the European Union (EU) after over 40 years of membership, panic appears to be setting in. The FTSE 100 has tumbled today with £20 billion wiped of the value of shares as the realisation sinks in on financial market traders that Brexit is looking more and more likely to become a reality.

Turbulent times are ahead for the economy if the British people do indeed call time on our membership of the EU, at least in the short term. But it is not only in the field of economics that we will experience a crisis after a Brexit vote, but politically and constitutionally too, and this promises to be more long term than the economic fall-out.

If the opinion polls are right, and there has to be some doubt about this after last year’s general election polling got it so hopelessly wrong, there is a divide in the country between the different nations and regions.

Scotland appears to be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, and if indeed the Scots do vote that way in the referendum, and the English vote to leave and tip the UK balance for out, the whole question of Scottish independence will reappear just two years after the issue seemed to have been resolved for a generation. 

Alex Salmon, the SNP MP and former leader states in The Telegraph it is a certainty that the Scots will demand another independence referendum, and it will be before the scheduled general election of 2020. I think, in these circumstances the result will be for independence (within the EU), and over 300 years of political union between England and Scotland will be abandoned.

But it doesn’t just end there. Northern Ireland is another interesting case in point. The Northern Irish are overwhelming in favour of staying in the EU too, with the voters split between nationalists who predominantly want to stay and unionists who predominantly want to leave. Overall, roughly two thirds want to remain in the EU. Could Northern Ireland also want to leave the UK?

Northern Ireland is complicated of course, but the nationalists may spy an opportunity for a united Ireland (with the Republic of Ireland and again within the EU). If they do stay in the UK then there obviously will be an issue with the border with the Republic being in the EU and the North not in the EU, as well as the cultural ties that exist between the two peoples, at least on the nationalist side. Northern Ireland gets a huge amount of money from the EU as well, and Irish unity could be worth 36 billion euros for the island of Ireland overall. It is quite possible, I think that Northern Ireland will leave the UK in the near future, after a Brexit vote.

Wales seems to be quite heavily in favour of leaving the EU, and elected 7 Welsh Assembly members in May, so it is unlikely the Welsh will be unhappy about a UK vote to leave, but even then it will cause tension between the north and west of Wales and the south and east of the country.

Finally, what will the English make of Brexit? Again different areas have differing views on the benefits of EU membership, and so if overall the English and UK total is for leaving, reaction will likely vary between different parts of the country.

London is the most EU positive region of England, with something like 60% of voters wanting to remain in the EU. The capital is culturally different from the rest of England (and the UK) and thrives on immigration and generally does well out EU membership. London is outward looking to the world and would not want to effectively cut itself off from Europe. Could London also seek to leave the UK post Brexit? It is certainly a possibility I think. London’s population and economy is far bigger than Scotland, let alone Ireland, and so if it is good enough for the Scots and Irish then why not London too?  

This would cause some problems with having a border between London and the rest of England, but I would assume that London will not be building any walls around the perimeter of the London Boroughs. Free movement between England and London will be to London’s advantage, so an open border will be desirable, to London anyway.

It could be, that England will want to build a wall in Hertfordshire and Essex to keep Londoners out, but that will be their business, not ours. Let them have their little England, London can look after itself, and could well do much better without having to subsidise the rest of England.    

Sunday 12 June 2016

Dear Bernie, Don’t Give Up, Run as a Green!

Written by David Lindorff and first published at Counter Punch

Dear Bernie,

You ran a great race, achieving something that most of us thought would be impossible, running as an “avowed” socialist in today’s United States of America, against one of the most hardened and tested political machines in the country, the Clintons, and winning 22 primaries and caucuses with a total of over 11 million votes. And while Hillary and her minions threw everything they had at you, including voter suppression efforts, lies about your voting record in the Senate, unfair assistance from the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic officials, and manipulation of the media, you came excruciatingly close to knocking her off and winning the nomination.

Okay, you didn’t make it to the finish line.

Now the pressure is on you, from the corporate media that originally ignored you, then attacked you and finally resorted to outright corruption the night before the June 7 primary by prematurely calling the race for Clinton in hopes of depressing your turnout in the last six primaries, and now to a meeting tomorrow with President Obama, who will try and convince you to give up, and to endorse Hillary Clinton.

But while it’s true that way back at the start of your seemingly Quixotic campaign, you did promise to endorse her if you lost, that campaign has since evolved beyond even your imagination into a powerful movement for “political revolution,” with millions of people behind it. Also over the intervening months, you have both seen how unprincipled your opponent can be, and have also done a masterful job of highlighting just how corrupted she has become as a person and politician. You’ve pointed out how she has been bought by the too-big-to-fail bankers, who have paid her legal bribes totaling millions of dollars, euphemistically calling them “speaking fees.” You’ve denounced her acceptance of hundreds of millions of dollars of legal bribes in the form of campaign contributions from key industries like the drug companies, the military contractors, the oil giants and even the for-profit prison industry. While you graciously declined early on and waited, in my view, way too long to go after Hillary for her improper and illegal use, for years, of a private email server during her four-year tenure as Secretary of State, late in the primary battle you finally did point out that she was acting in an illegal way (one that now has her as the first presumptive presidential candidate in memory running while being actively investigated by the FBI). You also intimated — correctly in my humble view as an investigative reporter — that this move of hers to avoid the Freedom of Information Act was linked to her efforts to peddle influence to US corporate executives and foreign leaders in return for cash going into the Clinton Foundation coffers — a sordid arrangement reeking of corruption and self-dealing.

You’ve been right in all of this campaign criticism, and you have successfully exposed Hillary Clinton as the bought-and-paid candidate of big money, a woman who will say whatever she thinks it takes to get herself elected but who, in the end, will be serving the interests of those who paid for her election, not of the American people.

How could you now even think about turning around and doing what you originally said you would do and endorsing her? How could you, after exposing Clinton as the candidate of big banks, big pharma, big military and rich people, ask your millions of supporters — including people who dropped their hard-earned $27 into your campaign, often multiple times, to the tune, I believe, of over $200 million — suddenly turn around and ask them to back her in the general election?

If you were to endorse Hillary Clinton at this point, you would be destroying everything you have accomplished in this amazing campaign. Many people — especially the young people for whom your movement may have been a first-ever experience at political action — would surely become cynical about politics. Others would just write you off as just another self-serving politician accepting a deal. Most would ignore any call for unity anyhow, making it doubly pointless and destructive for you to make it. So what would you accomplish then, except perhaps to be repaid for your submission with some offer of a plum post on an important Senate Committee (assuming that the Republicans, in a race against Clinton, don’t end up staying in control of the Senate, making such a promised plum into a prune)?

Fortunately there is another path, and I’m sure you’ve been at least thinking about it. That is to run in the general election, this time going up against both Hillary and Trump (as well as the Libertarians and the Conservatives, who will be vying with Trump for the country’s right-leaning voters).

You could run as an independent. I’m sure you’d get plenty of financial backing again from your supporters, as in the primaries, and that you’d do creditably well, too if you did. But as Ralph Nader learned, the problem is you’d be wasting a lot if not most of your time and much of your funding fighting simply to get your name on state ballots — a process which the two established parties have conspired to make extremely difficult. In fact, many states’ deadlines for getting an independent name on the ballot have already, or are about to pass.

On the other hand, I know you have been approached about, but reportedly have yet to respond to, offers from people like Dr. Jill Stein, a leader of the Green Party and its presumptive nominee for this year’s presidential race as she was in 2012, and Seattle’s socialist City Council woman Kshama Sawant too, about seeking and accepting the Green Party’s nomination for president (the Green Party’s nominating convention is in early August). Stein has even said she’d let you have the top spot, running for president!

As I assume you are aware, the Green Party is already on the ballot in 21 states having a total of 310 electoral votes, which is 40 more than the 270 needed to win the presidency. The party is reportedly working hard to get on a number of other state lines too in time for November’s election and is already close to having 25 states with another 60 electoral votes. They’re not stopping there (and would do even better with some of your campaign money to pay for lawyers and petition gatherers).

If you got that nomination, you’d be well on your way to being a viable national third-party candidate, and could work to get on the ballots of other critical states. This could be done in some states by getting smaller state parties, for example Peace & Freedom or the Working People’s Party to nominate you, and where no other option exists by fighting to get listed as an independent candidate.

Could you win in such a five-way race? I believe that in this unprecedented political environment, running against two candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who have the highest negative polling numbers in the history of polls, you could indeed win. You start with the more than 10 million people who’ve already voted for you once in the primaries (who would surely vote for you again in November), and since you have already run in all 50 states, your name recognition is as high as it could possibly be. Unlike Ralph Nader in his campaigns, you are virtually guaranteed as a third-party candidate to be included in the nationally televised debates in the fall, which will only increase your chances of winning. And you know you will be deluged with campaign funds from your backers in even greater amounts than during the primaries if you are running for the White House for real in the general election.

But even if you didn’t win an outright majority of electoral votes, there’s a good chance you’d win the presidency. All you would really have to do is out-do Hillary Clinton. That’s because given the limitations of Donald Trump’s appeal, and the appeal of even the total right-leaning candidates’ votes, it’s a pretty safe bet that between the two of you, Clinton and yourself, you will win a combined majority of the electoral votes.

Say what?

Recall that the electors in the Electoral College are not required by law to vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote. Like those frustrating “super delegates” of the Democratic Party, they are free to vote for whom they choose (remember the Nixon elector who famously voted for anti-war Rep. Pete McClosky, or the electors who voted in 1824 for John Quincy Adams, though Andrew Jackson had won both the electoral and the popular vote that year?). This means if you were to win more electoral votes than Clinton, you could just sit tight and let her contemplate the choice between allowing the election to move from a deadlocked Electoral College to the Republican-led House for a decision, which would mean her turning the White House over to a Republican (possibly Donald Trump!) or alternatively instructing her electors to vote for you.

If you ended up with fewer electors than Hillary, you could do the same, and have your electors vote for her, making her the president.

In either of those cases, I suspect you could both agree to have the one handing over the electors become the vice president, perhaps with some important responsibilities assigned to the role as part of a publicly transparent deal.

What should be particularly attractive about this plan is that by your running as a Green, you would be institutionalizing that “political revolution” that you launched a year ago with your primary run. A Green campaign with you as the marquis candidate would put the Green Party on the ballot in all 50 states for the 2018 off-year election, as well as the 2020 presidential election. It would transmute the Green Party instantly from a perennial protest vote option into a major party going forward, perhaps even supplanting the increasingly corrupted and out-of-touch Democratic Party that you for so long avoided joining.

In fact, with you topping a Green ticket this year, many people, perhaps including some with name recognition, could be expected to run for Senate and House on that party line, and in such a tumultuous election year, they might well be voted into office as Green Party candidates, further undermining the Establishment two-system in Congress, and encouraging yet more people to run as Green candidates in 2018.

Frankly, aside from the wear-and-tear of another grueling three-to-four-month campaign (though you seem to thrive on them!), I don’t see any downside to this plan. You still get a chance to win the White House, you get to continue to lead and further develop a political revolution, and you don’t have to eat crow and endorse a candidate whom you clearly know to be the embodiment of the very rigged political-economic system you’ve been decrying.

Bernie, it’s been 44 years since I’ve been this excited about a US presidential campaign. In 1972, George McGovern put his whole Senate career on the line and tackled one of the most corrupt and ruthless politicians of the day, Richard Nixon, because he passionately believed that the Vietnam War had to be ended, and that poverty in America and other issues had to be seriously addressed. He lost, but he fought a nobel battle that was epic and that is still remembered. In a way, with Nixon’s impeachment and resignation, he really won, for it was his candidacy and the movement he was part of that pushed Nixon to adopt the extreme tactics of Watergate that led to his downfall.

It’s your turn now. You’ve already accomplished one helluva lot, and it almost seems unfair for me and your supporters to ask you, like Muhammed Ali after his draft refusal and ban from boxing, to climb back into the ring for another few punishing rounds of political combat, but we need you to do it. Please, for the sake of the political movement you’ve begun to end America’s corrupt, rigged political and economic system, don’t stop now. Talk to Stein and Sawant and the Green Party, get their nomination for president and go for broke!

The movement you began will have your backing!

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Friday 10 June 2016

Will the Euro 2016 Football affect the result of the British EU Referendum?

The Euro 2016 football tournament kicks off this evening with the host nation, France, playing Romania in the opening game. It should be a celebration of football and bring the nations of Europe together, in what should be a party atmosphere. Let’s hope that there are no problems with terrorism to spoil the mood.

I got to thinking today, is the tournament likely to influence the result of our referendum on membership of the European Union (EU)? The referendum is, after all, slap bang in the middle of the tournament. England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s football teams are all taking part, so will success or failure have some kind psychological bearing on how people vote in the referendum, even if subliminally?

The voting populations of Wales and Northern Ireland are relatively small with less than three million voters combined. Relative to England that is, which has some 38 million voters in total, so is far more likely to influence the end result. But will it?

There is no real evidence that I can find that sporting events influence voting behaviour in any significant way, but the politicians seem to imagine that it does, or at least might. The 2014 Scottish Independence referendum was purposefully held by the (SNP) Scottish government just after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow of that year. In the Commonwealth Games, as opposed to the Olympic Games, Scottish athletes represent Scotland, rather than Britain and the SNP hoped that this would lead to a Scottish patriotism flowering, and influence the voters towards independence. Scotland did pretty well too, winning 19 gold medals in a total of 53 medals overall, and ranking in fourth place on the medals table. The Scots voted to stay in the UK, so maybe it didn’t have any affect at a tall.

There is a political myth that Harold Wilson, the former Labour prime minister, called the 1966 general election after England won the football world cup, but this is not true. The general election in 1966 was held on 31 March, whilst it was almost four months later, on 30 July, that England clinched the world cup with a win over West Germany in the final.

What is true, is that Wilson thought England losing to West Germany in the quarter finals of the 1970 tournament, and bad weather, was instrumental in his party losing the general election of that year. England were knocked out of the 1970 world cup in Mexico only four days before the election and Wilson felt that the defeat had a depressing effect on the public. Certainly, the opinion polls gave Labour a comfortable lead in the run up to election, and Wilson felt it lowered the turn-out at the election, amongst Labour voters in particular.   

The referendum is the day after the first round of Euro 2016, so if England especially, are knocked out at this stage, it could have some kind of effect on the English public. Which way this would go though is open to debate. It could reduce turn-out in the referendum and it could, depending on the circumstances of the exit, lead to feelings of injustice at the hands of the Europeans.

I do think it is unlikely that England will exit the competition at the first hurdle though anyway. For the first time, this tournament has 24 teams competing in it (up from 16) and the first round only eliminates 8 teams. England’s group is not that difficult looking either, but if the worst should happen, the defeat will only be at the hands of the Welsh, Russians or Slovakians. Russia isn’t in the EU and Wales and Slovakia are hardly the source of any major anti-Europe feeling. It might have been different if England were knocked out by France or Germany, but if that happens, it will be after the referendum has concluded.

Personally, I don’t think it will make any difference to how the English will vote in this referendum, but if the margins are apparently as tight as most people seem to think, a poor performance by the football team could have a more profound impact, than the usual attitude of ‘when does the Premiership club football begin again?’

Thursday 9 June 2016

Let Them Drown - The Violence of Othering in a Warming World - Naomi Klein

Written by Naomi Klein and first published at the London Review of Books

Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’. In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth.

Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world.

He was and remains among our most achingly eloquent theorists of exile and homesickness – but Said’s homesickness, he always made clear, was for a home that had been so radically altered that it no longer really existed. His position was complex: he fiercely defended the right to return, but never claimed that home was fixed. What mattered was the principle of respect for all human rights equally and the need for restorative justice to inform our actions and policies. This perspective is deeply relevant in our time of eroding coastlines, of nations disappearing beneath rising seas, of the coral reefs that sustain entire cultures being bleached white, of a balmy Arctic. This is because the state of longing for a radically altered homeland – a home that may not even exist any longer – is something that is being rapidly, and tragically, globalised. In March, two major peer-reviewed studies warned that sea-level rise could happen significantly faster than previously believed. One of the authors of the first study was James Hansen – perhaps the most respected climate scientist in the world. He warned that, on our current emissions trajectory, we face the ‘loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history’ – and not in thousands of years from now but as soon as this century. If we don’t demand radical change we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists.

Said helps us imagine what that might look like as well. He helped to popularise the Arabic word sumud (‘to stay put, to hold on’): that steadfast refusal to leave one’s land despite the most desperate eviction attempts and even when surrounded by continuous danger. It’s a word most associated with places like Hebron and Gaza, but it could be applied equally today to residents of coastal Louisiana who have raised their homes up on stilts so that they don’t have to evacuate, or to Pacific Islanders whose slogan is ‘We are not drowning. We are fighting.’ In countries like the Marshall Islands and Fiji and Tuvalu, they know that so much sea-level rise is inevitable that their countries likely have no future. But they refuse just to concern themselves with the logistics of relocation, and wouldn’t even if there were safer countries willing to open their borders – a very big if, since climate refugees aren’t currently recognised under international law. Instead they are actively resisting: blockading Australian coal ships with traditional outrigger canoes, disrupting international climate negotiations with their inconvenient presence, demanding far more aggressive climate action. If there is anything worth celebrating in the Paris Agreement signed in April – and sadly, there isn’t enough – it has come about because of this kind of principled action: climate sumud.

But this only scratches the surface of what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’. And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.

We have dangerously warmed our world already, and our governments still refuse to take the actions necessary to halt the trend. There was a time when many had the right to claim ignorance. But for the past three decades, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created and climate negotiations began, this refusal to lower emissions has been accompanied with full awareness of the dangers. And this kind of recklessness would have been functionally impossible without institutional racism, even if only latent. It would have been impossible without Orientalism, without all the potent tools on offer that allow the powerful to discount the lives of the less powerful. These tools – of ranking the relative value of humans – are what allow the writing off of entire nations and ancient cultures. And they are what allowed for the digging up of all that carbon to begin with.

Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills. As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’. Think of the mountains of Appalachia, blasted off for coal mining – because so-called ‘mountain top removal’ coal mining is cheaper than digging holes underground. There must be theories of othering to justify sacrificing an entire geography – theories about the people who lived there being so poor and backward that their lives and culture don’t deserve protection. After all, if you are a ‘hillbilly’, who cares about your hills?

Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries. In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers. It was in fights against this kind of ‘environmental racism’ that the climate justice movement was born.

Fossil fuel sacrifice zones dot the globe. Take the Niger Delta, poisoned with an Exxon Valdez-worth of spilled oil every year, a process Ken Saro-Wiwa, before he was murdered by his government, called ‘ecological genocide’. The executions of community leaders, he said, were ‘all for Shell’. In my country, Canada, the decision to dig up the Alberta tar sands – a particularly heavy form of oil – has required the shredding of treaties with First Nations, treaties signed with the British Crown that guaranteed Indigenous peoples the right to continue to hunt, fish and live traditionally on their ancestral lands. It required it because these rights are meaningless when the land is desecrated, when the rivers are polluted and the moose and fish are riddled with tumours. And it gets worse: Fort McMurray – the town at the centre of the tar sands boom, where many of the workers live and where much of the money is spent – is currently in an infernal blaze. It’s that hot and that dry. And this has something to do with what is being mined there.

Even without such dramatic events, this kind of resource extraction is a form of violence, because it does so much damage to the land and water that it brings about the end of a way of life, a death of cultures that are inseparable from the land. Severing Indigenous people’s connection to their culture used to be state policy in Canada – imposed through the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families to boarding schools where their language and cultural practices were banned, and where physical and sexual abuse were rampant. A recent truth and reconciliation report called it ‘cultural genocide’. The trauma associated with these layers of forced separation – from land, from culture, from family – is directly linked to the epidemic of despair ravaging so many First Nations communities today. On a single Saturday night in April, in the community of Attawapiskat – population 2000 – 11 people tried to take their own lives. Meanwhile, DeBeers runs a diamond mine on the community’s traditional territory; like all extractive projects, it had promised hope and opportunity. ‘Why don’t the people just leave?’, the politicians and pundits ask. But many do. And that departure is linked, in part, to the thousands of Indigenous women in Canada who have been murdered or gone missing, often in big cities. Press reports rarely make the connection between violence against women and violence against the land – often to extract fossil fuels – but it exists.

Every new government comes to power promising a new era of respect for Indigenous rights. They don’t deliver, because Indigenous rights, as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, include the right to refuse extractive projects – even when those projects fuel national economic growth. And that’s a problem because growth is our religion, our way of life. So even Canada’s hunky and charming new prime minister is bound and determined to build new tar sands pipelines, against the express wishes of Indigenous communities who don’t want to risk their water, or participate in the further destabilising of the climate.

Fossil fuels require sacrifice zones: they always have. And you can’t have a system built on sacrificial places and sacrificial people unless intellectual theories that justify their sacrifice exist and persist: from Manifest Destiny to Terra Nullius to Orientalism, from backward hillbillies to backward Indians. We often hear climate change blamed on ‘human nature’, on the inherent greed and short-sightedness of our species. Or we are told we have altered the earth so much and on such a planetary scale that we are now living in the Anthropocene – the age of humans. These ways of explaining our current circumstances have a very specific, if unspoken meaning: that humans are a single type, that human nature can be essentialised to the traits that created this crisis. In this way, the systems that certain humans created, and other humans powerfully resisted, are completely let off the hook.

Capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy – those sorts of system. Diagnoses like this erase the very existence of human systems that organised life differently: systems that insist that humans must think seven generations in the future; must be not only good citizens but also good ancestors; must take no more than they need and give back to the land in order to protect and augment the cycles of regeneration. These systems existed and still exist, but they are erased every time we say that the climate crisis is a crisis of ‘human nature’ and that we are living in the ‘age of man’. And they come under very real attack when megaprojects are built, like the Gualcarque hydroelectric dams in Honduras, a project which, among other things, took the life of the land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in March.

Some people insist that it doesn’t have to be this bad. We can clean up resource extraction, we don’t need to do it the way it’s been done in Honduras and the Niger Delta and the Alberta tar sands. Except that we are running out of cheap and easy ways to get at fossil fuels, which is why we have seen the rise of fracking and tar sands extraction in the first place. This, in turn, is starting to challenge the original Faustian pact of the industrial age: that the heaviest risks would be outsourced, offloaded, onto the other – the periphery abroad and inside our own nations. It’s something that is becoming less and less possible. Fracking is threatening some of the most picturesque parts of Britain as the sacrifice zone expands, swallowing up all kinds of places that imagined themselves safe. So this isn’t just about gasping at how ugly the tar sands are. It’s about acknowledging that there is no clean, safe, non-toxic way to run an economy powered by fossil fuels. There never was.

There is an avalanche of evidence that there is no peaceful way either. The trouble is structural. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. Particularly that most potent and precious of fossil fuels: oil. This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start – and inextricable, therefore, from the blowback that is climate change. If nations and peoples are regarded as other – exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970s – it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests. In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). In 2003, exactly fifty years later, it was another UK-US co-production – the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reverberations from each intervention continue to jolt our world, as do the reverberations from the successful burning of all that oil. The Middle East is now squeezed in the pincer of violence caused by fossil fuels, on the one hand, and the impact of burning those fossil fuels on the other.

In his latest book, The Conflict Shoreline, the Israeli architect Eyal Weizman has a groundbreaking take on how these forces are intersecting. The main way we’ve understood the border of the desert in the Middle East and North Africa, he explains, is the so-called ‘aridity line’, areas where there is on average 200 millimetres of rainfall a year, which has been considered the minimum for growing cereal crops on a large scale without irrigation. These meteorological boundaries aren’t fixed: they have fluctuated for various reasons, whether it was Israel’s attempts to ‘green the desert’ pushing them in one direction or cyclical drought expanding the desert in the other. And now, with climate change, intensifying drought can have all kinds of impacts along this line. Weizman points out that the Syrian border city of Daraa falls directly on the aridity line. Daraa is where Syria’s deepest drought on record brought huge numbers of displaced farmers in the years leading up to the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, and it’s where the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011. Drought wasn’t the only factor in bringing tensions to a head. But the fact that 1.5 million people were internally displaced in Syria as a result of the drought clearly played a role. The connection between water and heat stress and conflict is a recurring, intensifying pattern all along the aridity line: all along it you see places marked by drought, water scarcity, scorching temperatures and military conflict – from Libya to Palestine, to some of the bloodiest battlefields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But Weizman also discovered what he calls an ‘astounding coincidence’. When you map the targets of Western drone strikes onto the region, you see that ‘many of these attacks – from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza and Libya – are directly on or close to the 200 mm aridity line.’ The red dots on the map above represent some of the areas where strikes have been concentrated. To me this is the most striking attempt yet to visualise the brutal landscape of the climate crisis. All this was foreshadowed a decade ago in a US military report. ‘The Middle East,’ it observed, ‘has always been associated with two natural resources, oil (because of its abundance) and water (because of its scarcity).’ True enough. And now certain patterns have become quite clear: first, Western fighter jets followed that abundance of oil; now, Western drones are closely shadowing the lack of water, as drought exacerbates conflict.

Just as bombs follow oil, and drones follow drought, so boats follow both: boats filled with refugees fleeing homes on the aridity line ravaged by war and drought. And the same capacity for dehumanising the other that justified the bombs and drones is now being trained on these migrants, casting their need for security as a threat to ours, their desperate flight as some sort of invading army. Tactics refined on the West Bank and in other occupation zones are now making their way to North America and Europe. In selling his wall on the border with Mexico, Donald Trump likes to say: ‘Ask Israel, the wall works.’ Camps are bulldozed in Calais, thousands of people drown in the Mediterranean, and the Australian government detains survivors of wars and despotic regimes in camps on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus. Conditions are so desperate on Nauru that last month an Iranian migrant died after setting himself on fire to try to draw the world’s attention. Another migrant – a 21-year-old woman from Somalia – set herself on fire a few days later. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, warns that Australians ‘cannot be misty-eyed about this’ and ‘have to be very clear and determined in our national purpose’. It’s worth bearing Nauru in mind the next time a columnist in a Murdoch paper declares, as Katie Hopkins did last year, that it’s time for Britain ‘to get Australian. Bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats.’ In another bit of symbolism Nauru is one of the Pacific Islands very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Its residents, after seeing their homes turned into prisons for others, will very possibly have to migrate themselves. Tomorrow’s climate refugees have been recruited into service as today’s prison guards.

We need to understand that what is happening on Nauru, and what is happening to it, are expressions of the same logic. A culture that places so little value on black and brown lives that it is willing to let human beings disappear beneath the waves, or set themselves on fire in detention centres, will also be willing to let the countries where black and brown people live disappear beneath the waves, or desiccate in the arid heat. When that happens, theories of human hierarchy – that we must take care of our own first – will be marshalled to rationalise these monstrous decisions. We are making this rationalisation already, if only implicitly. Although climate change will ultimately be an existential threat to all of humanity, in the short term we know that it does discriminate, hitting the poor first and worst, whether they are abandoned on the rooftops of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina or whether they are among the 36 million who according to the UN are facing hunger due to drought in Southern and East Africa.

This is an emergency, a present emergency, not a future one, but we aren’t acting like it. The Paris Agreement commits to keeping warming below 2°c. It’s a target that is beyond reckless. When it was unveiled in Copenhagen in 2009, the African delegates called it ‘a death sentence’. The slogan of several low-lying island nations is ‘1.5 to stay alive’. At the last minute, a clause was added to the Paris Agreement that says countries will pursue ‘efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°c’.

Not only is this non-binding but it is a lie: we are making no such efforts. The governments that made this promise are now pushing for more fracking and more tar sands development – which are utterly incompatible with 2°c, let alone 1.5°c. This is happening because the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries in the world think they are going to be OK, that someone else is going to eat the biggest risks, that even when climate change turns up on their doorstep, they will be taken care of.

When they’re wrong things get even uglier. We had a vivid glimpse into that future when the floodwaters rose in England last December and January, inundating 16,000 homes. These communities weren’t only dealing with the wettest December on record. They were also coping with the fact that the government has waged a relentless attack on the public agencies, and the local councils, that are on the front lines of flood defence. So understandably, there were many who wanted to change the subject away from that failure. Why, they asked, is Britain spending so much money on refugees and foreign aid when it should be taking care of its own? ‘Never mind foreign aid,’ we read in the Daily Mail. ‘What about national aid?’ ‘Why,’ a Telegraph editorial demanded, ‘should British taxpayers continue to pay for flood defences abroad when the money is needed here?’ I don’t know – maybe because Britain invented the coal-burning steam engine and has been burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale longer than any nation on Earth? But I digress. The point is that this could have been a moment to understand that we are all affected by climate change, and must take action together and in solidarity with one another. It wasn’t, because climate change isn’t just about things getting hotter and wetter: under our current economic and political model, it’s about things getting meaner and uglier.

The most important lesson to take from all this is that there is no way to confront the climate crisis as a technocratic problem, in isolation. It must be seen in the context of austerity and privatisation, of colonialism and militarism, and of the various systems of othering needed to sustain them all. The connections and intersections between them are glaring, and yet so often resistance to them is highly compartmentalised. The anti-austerity people rarely talk about climate change, the climate change people rarely talk about war or occupation. We rarely make the connection between the guns that take black lives on the streets of US cities and in police custody and the much larger forces that annihilate so many black lives on arid land and in precarious boats around the world.

Overcoming these disconnections – strengthening the threads tying together our various issues and movements – is, I would argue, the most pressing task of anyone concerned with social and economic justice. It is the only way to build a counterpower sufficiently robust to win against the forces protecting the highly profitable but increasingly untenable status quo. Climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, wars, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice and against militarism. Indeed the climate crisis – by presenting our species with an existential threat and putting us on a firm and unyielding science-based deadline – might just be the catalyst we need to knit together a great many powerful movements, bound together by a belief in the inherent worth and value of all people and united by a rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, whether it applies to peoples or places. We face so many overlapping and intersecting crises that we can’t afford to fix them one at a time. We need integrated solutions, solutions that radically bring down emissions, while creating huge numbers of good, unionised jobs and delivering meaningful justice to those who have been most abused and excluded under the current extractive economy.

Said died the year Iraq was invaded, living to see its libraries and museums looted, its oil ministry faithfully guarded. Amid these outrages, he found hope in the global anti-war movement, as well as in new forms of grassroots communication opened up by technology; he noted ‘the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet’. His vision even had a place for tree-huggers. I was reminded of those words recently while I was reading up on England’s floods. Amid all the scapegoating and finger-pointing, I came across a post by a man called Liam Cox. He was upset by the way some in the media were using the disaster to rev up anti-foreigner sentiment, and he said so:
I live in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, one of the worst affected areas hit by the floods. It’s shit, everything has gotten really wet. However … I’m alive. I’m safe. My family are safe. We don’t live in fear. I’m free. There aren’t bullets flying about. There aren’t bombs going off. I’m not being forced to flee my home and I’m not being shunned by the richest country in the world or criticised by its residents.
All you morons vomiting your xenophobia … about how money should only be spent ‘on our own’ need to look at yourselves closely in the mirror. I request you ask yourselves a very important question … Am I a decent and honourable human being? Because home isn’t just the UK, home is everywhere on this planet.
I think that makes for a very fine last word.